Proposed changes to the overhaul of teachers' pensions mean that tens of thousands of school leaders could see their monthly contributions rocket under plans unveiled this week.
While low-paid teachers and many in middle-management roles will be protected from the next round of pension increases under the Department for Education's latest proposals, their superiors will bear a greater share of the pain.
In the face of union anger and two national strikes over pension changes, the DfE has already tiered the first phase of increases for 2012-13 so that low-paid staff have a smaller hike than colleagues on higher salaries. Now plans for the next increase, in 2013-14, have been amended so that "greater protection should be provided to the lower paid", with those paid pound;45,000 or more picking up a larger portion of the bill.
According to the plans, teachers earning less than pound;26,000 would avoid any increase at all for 2013-14, while those earning pound;40,000-pound;45,000 would also benefit, with the annual increase in their contributions dropping from 1.6 per cent to 1.2 per cent.
This, the DfE's consultation document reveals, is a response to union claims that the previous model meant "some classroom teachers were facing the same increase as some headteachers".
But 113,000 school leaders and middle managers earning pound;45,000 to pound;75,000 - who have already seen their monthly pension bills go up by 1.6 per cent for 2012-13 - face a further 2.1 per cent increase next year, meaning that more than 10 per cent of their salary would disappear from their pay packets. A teacher earning pound;45,000 a year would have to pay an additional pound;1,191, while a colleague on pound;44,000 would only lose out on pound;986.
The threshold for the top tier will also be lowered, meaning that the number of heads hit by the maximum contribution rate - set to be 11.2 per cent for 2013-14 - will more than double from around 600 at present to more than 1,500.
"It's not brilliant," said Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union. "But one of our goals has been to protect middle to high earners, not top earners. The big group that was hard done by, assistant heads and deputy heads, won't be hit, but incentives for senior positions are certainly diminishing."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the lack of investment from the government meant that any changes would be "unfair" on some teachers. "If we make it better for somebody, someone else is going to have to pay for it. It's like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It remains a massive concern," he added.
Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said that some classroom teachers in London - who are on a higher pay scale than elsewhere - will not be protected by the changes.
Mr Freedman also hit out at the government's public service pensions bill, currently going through parliament, which ATL believes will make it easier for ministers to make sweeping changes to teachers' pensions without primary legislation.
"They are treating pensions as the possession of the government rather than of the teacher," he said. "The way they are going to bring this in is dodgy. If this was in Russia or Belarus, there would be international outcry but, because it's Michael Gove, no one says anything."
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